California man shot to death by police while outside smoking, checking Facebook
Tommy McClain (Facebook)

Police gunned down a California man last week outside his cousin’s home, but his family said the shooting wasn’t justified.

Tommy McClain died Wednesday after he was shot by Eureka police officers, who said the 22-year-old reached for a gun during an early morning confrontation.

Officers had been in the area searching for two people wanted on felony warrants and found two men arguing in the street – and one of them appeared to be armed.

An officer told dispatchers they had the armed man at gunpoint, and they fired about a minute later after officers said the man reached for his weapon.

They then told dispatchers that “uncooperatives” were coming outside the house, but they were “slowly gaining control of the scene.”

Police said they found a gun at the scene, but they declined to say how close it was to McClain’s body.

“I don’t want to get into where exactly the gun was until I can prove that forensically to my satisfaction,” said Chief Andrew Mills, of Eureka police. “I want to make sure I’m 100 percent accurate.”

McClain had gone out drinking earlier in the evening to celebrate his cousin’s birthday.

Josh Mottern, the cousin, went to bed after returning home about midnight because he was inebriated, said his wife, Nichole Mottern, and her mother, who had been babysitting the couple’s two children, was on the couch.

She said McClain went outside to smoke a cigarette, and Mottern went upstairs to check on her husband.

She told the Lost Coast Outpost that she looked out a window and noticed a police officer “looking around” in the yard, and then the officer took off running toward the front of the house.

Mottern went downstairs to see what was going on, and officers shined a light in her eyes as she opened the door and ordered her to put her hands up – which she said she did.

“Tommy was already out there,” Mottern said. “He sits out there and smokes cigarettes. He came out from beside the porch … He started to put his hands up. He walked out into the grass … They were telling him to come.”

Mottern’s mother, Corinna Ward, said she came outside to find five or six officers standing in a semicircle, although Mills said only four officers were present.

“They were telling him to get down,” Ward said. “I don’t think he understood -- I don’t know.”

Ward doesn’t believe McClain was armed, saying his hands were raised and empty.

But then, her daughter said, an officer yelled, “He’s got a gun.”

“They all fired,” Mottern said. “I saw him getting shot from all different angles. First shot fired and then they all fired. It wasn’t one cop, it was them all. There were a lot of cops (and) he crumpled down into the ground.”

She also said McClain had nothing in his hands, but a neighbor said the slain man did appear to be holding some type of object.

“I feel that the level of force used was justified,” said the neighbor, who did not wish to be identified. “It was a clear threat to the officer’s life. I feel it was unfortunate, but it was fortunate that no others were injured.”

Mottern said the officers handcuffed McClain after they shot him and began yelling at her and her husband, who came outside after hearing the shots.

“They told us to put our hands up,” Mottern said. “When you have all officers shouting at you different commands, it is very confusing --especially when you aren’t doing anything wrong.”

Officers tackled Josh Mottern, who was confused and upset, and took him to jail.

Nichole Mottern recorded video immediately after the shooting, and officers can be heard ordering family members to calm down and stay back.

She disputes the police claim that McClain was involved in an altercation before the shooting, saying he had been outside for only a few minutes and logged onto Facebook.

“He had just liked a picture on my Facebook a minute before,” Nichole Mottern said.

Facebook shows McClain had liked and commented on the photo, thanking Mottern and her mother for a fun evening, about five minutes before the shooting.

It’s not clear whether McClain had the phone in his hands when he was shot.

“None of it makes sense,” Nichole Mottern said. “It was a really good night that ended really bad.”